A lot of people ask me about brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.
They see the same visual cues on my website, in social media posts, in ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.
They comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. A few people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”
Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots.
They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”
On the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.
So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.
Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.
The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.
It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.
Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.
Tom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values. Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”
As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.
Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.
If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.
If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.
If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.
Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore.Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.
If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.
A lot of people think they need a new logo. Or they’ll talk about a “rebranding exercise” which is usually just a logo revision.
And there are many ways to get that job done… You can hire a big design firm, a strategic branding agency, a freelance graphic designer, a commercial illustrator or even an animator.
Unfortunately, you can also have your cousin’s wife’s kid draw a new logo for you, or you can crowd source it through one of those online sweatshops.
But what you think you want may not be what your business really needs.
To succeed in business, at any level, you need a brand. Not just a logo. And brands are much more than just a graphic design exercise.
So here are five important tips for getting a brand off the ground. This is what you need to know before doing a new logo in order to get the best results from any brand identity team or graphic designer.
1. Logo design is not the place to start.
Before anyone dives into the design of a new logo, you need an idea. Because brands are built on ideas.
What’s the idea behind your brand? What are the motives that drive the business? What’s your cause or the purpose behind all that hard work you do?
You have to spell it out. You need a clear brand strategy, written down, so the designers have something to work with.
Otherwise, it’s just garbage in, garbage out. Meaningless art.
By dialing in your brand platform and core brand messages you’ll save everyone from frustrating false starts and wasted effort. Unfortunately, most graphic designers cannot help you with this strategy piece. (It’s not just a form you fill out.) So you’ll either need to figure it out for yourself, or hire a strategic branding firm. Here’s a post that’ll help you get started.
2. Be clear about what you stand for.
There’s an old saying in the design business… “Show us your soul and we’ll show you your brand.”
The soul of your brand, and the foundation for your brand identity, begins with core values and shared beliefs. Those beliefs, your passion and your sense of purpose are all critically important for the design team. If you don’t know what you stand for, it’s going to be very difficult to build an iconic brand. Here’s some help on how to define your brand values.
3. A brand identity does not equate to a brand.
The logo is just the tip of the branding iceberg. The logo is what people see, initially, but if you want to establish a memorable, lasting brand – and ultimately an iconic brand – you’ll need to go a little deeper. The vast mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than the design work on top. The logo should be a reflection of what’s going on down there.
4. You’re completely blind to the creative possibilities.
This is not an insult, it’s just a fact of life. Unless you’ve studied graphic design, you have no idea how great your brand identity could really be. You’d be amazed.
Your expectations are based only on what you see everyday… the ho-hum, literal graphics that are standard fare in your industry, your town, and your local grocery store.
If you can set-aside your preconceived notions and move past those visual cliches, you’ll be much closer to success. Be open minded, not literal-minded. Let your design team explore the ideas that seem most outrageous to you. Those are the ideas that are remembered.
The scope of work among branding firms and graphic design studios varies dramatically, depending on the talent pool. Some firms, like mine, provide research, strategy, planning and brand messaging in addition to design. Others limit their bag of tricks to just the graphics.
In any case, the agency cannot guarantee long-term branding success. We can devise a strategy, point the way, and help communicate things in a breathtaking manner, but we can’t force you live up to your brand’s reputation.
You have to do that. Every day.
The trick to building a lasting, iconic brand is in the operational details. You have to continually prove that you can live up to your brand promise.
Your product has to deliver. Your service has to be up to snuff. Your people have to believe in your brand. Your brand affiliations need to line up. And your marketing communications need to be a reflection of that operational reality.
Otherwise all the branding talk is just wishful thinking.
Crowdsourcing logo design is a sore subject in the graphic design community. I could easily write 10,000 words and show 1,000 examples of why crowdsourcing is a bad idea. But I’m just going to focus on two practical reasons that you probably haven’t considered… These two ought to be deal breakers for many people who are trying to save a few bucks on their brand identity:
1. Managing the crowdsourcing process is a time-consuming pain in the butt. If your time is valuable, it could actually cost you more than hiring a local designer.
2. The finished product usually falls flat. Branding firms and graphic designers spend a lot of their time “re-branding” companies that originally crowdsourced their logo design.
First, let’s address the managerial issues of crowdsourcing logo design.
I recently coordinated a crowdsourcing project for a client. (Against my most adamant advice.) The client believed that his money would be better spent “outsourcing” the design work and using me as the Creative Director/Project Manager.
Fair enough… I’ve played that part in my company for more than 25 years, so it should be easy, right?
Managing a herd of young, unproven designers from far-away lands is far harder than managing the designers who I know and trust. It was a valuable experiment, and a bit of an eye-opener for me.
My first task was to provide an insightful, tightly-written creative brief that would provide all the inspiration the designers would need. No problem, that’s right in my wheelhouse. Plus, I had already devised a brand platform for that particular client, so the brief was relatively easy. In this case, my creative brief even included specific graphic concepts that I wanted the designers to explore.
Too bad nobody read it.
The first 50 design submissions were obvious throw-aways — A complete waste of time from designers who didn’t take even five minutes to read the creative brief. It was ridiculous. Using the handy “comment” tool on the crowdsourcing platform, I strongly suggested that they start over. “Don’t submit anything until you’ve thoroughly studied the creative brief,” I told them.
The next batch wasn’t any better. The designers were obviously submitting old designs that had been sitting around from past crowdsourcing “contests.” They just changed the name of the company, and voila!
Back to the comment tool: “We will entertain original designs only… no recycled designs please. “
I also loaded up more background material for the designers who actually choose to read. But as more designs rolled in it was painfully clear that many were just derivatives of earlier submissions. That’s one of the worst things about crowdsourcing… the designers see all of the submissions and what the client has “liked.” This system inevitably leads to copy-cat design.
“The client said he likes that font, so I’m going to use that font.”
“The client liked that purple color, so I’m going to do some purple versions.”
“The client commented favorably about that mark, so I’m going to do something like that.”
At one point a cat fight erupted between two of the designers, with one accusing the other of stealing her designs. Never mind. They were both terrible. I saw more crummy designs in that month than I had in the last 10 years. Back and forth and back and forth we went until we finally selected the “winning” designer.
That’s when the real work started.
After looking at more than 250 designs we finally had one that was, at least, a mediocre solution. Again, I went back to the “comments” tool and began the fine-tuning process. Unfortunately, the winning designer had no experience producing a simple bundle of materials like letterhead, business cards and an email signature, so there was a painful back-and-forth process on the simplest little production details. Stuff than any junior designer should have known.
For accomplished creative teams, every new design assignment is a learning process. The work is driven by insight and spurred on by a thorough understanding of the product or service.
We thrive on the challenge of that and there’s a disciplined process that we follow. We do the research, study the market, live with the products and pour our heart and soul into helping clients succeed. Because that’s how we succeed. We have to learn about the business before we can design anything.
Crowdsourcing logo design eliminates that process. It skips the insight phase and jumps right to execution with no business thinking involved. No listening. No collaboration. It also leaves the client in the unenviable position of Project Manager and Creative Director… A tough dual role to play if you’ve never been in the design business.
Professional managers know the danger in this. They don’t choose to manage projects when they have no experience or expertise in the activity they’re managing. So if you have no experience managing freelance designers, don’t choose crowdsourcing. Hire a design firm to manage the process for you.
Now for a discussion about subjective quality…
The finished product of my one crowdsourcing experience was mediocre, at best. Even though I served up ideas on a silver platter, and provided tons of insight on the market and the business model, the designs were weak. Most were just too darn literal.
If you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Nothing is left to the imagination. And there seems to be an assumption that all prospects are idiots.
Well guess what. If you dumb down your logo design, and pound people over the head with visual clichés and literal redundancies, you will not make the connection you’re hoping for. Your brand will not become iconic.
Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route… Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have a an illustration of a shoe. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.
If the I.O.C. had chosen the literal, quick-n-dirty design there would be no Olympic rings.
There would be no Golden Arches.
If Starbucks had chosen crowdsourcing there would be no mermaid.
There would be no crocodile for Lacoste.
See, logos are supposed to be symbolic. They are symbols of something, or the graphic interpretation of the idea behind your brand. Not literal descriptions of your service or product.
So stop trying so darn hard to get a literal logo. Let a good graphic designer apply a little creative license, and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming an iconic brand.
When it comes to crowdsourcing logo design, it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”
Here’s something I heard from a graphic designer recently: “Oh yeah, we’re going to create a new brand for that company. Totally.”
No she’s not. She’s not going to create a brand, she’s going to create a brand identity. There’s a difference. Let’s get the definition of brand straight, once and for all. It’s not the same as “brand identity” or logo.
So what is the definition of brand identity?
A brand identity project typically includes a logo and graphic standards that dictate fonts and colors for the company’s marketing materials. Sometimes we also do naming and brand messaging for a new product or company as well.
It’s a valuable service, but those graphic elements, in and of themselves, do not add up to a “Brand.”
If it’s done well, your logo is an accurate graphic reflection of your brand. But it’s just the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a “brand.” For the true definition of brand, you have to look deeper.
Tip of the Iceberg… “Brand” is everything above AND below the surface.
The vast, floating mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than just the design work that you see on the surface.
Everything you do in business is branding. Like it or not, it all matters… The words you choose. The images you show. The social media posts you do. The values you hold dear. The vendors you choose and the people you hire.
The sum of all those parts is the Brand.
Take Nike, for example. The swoosh is one of the world’s most recognized logos, but the Nike brand goes way deeper than that. Deeper than the advertising. Deeper than the collection of Nike-endorsed superstars. Deeper than Nike’s manufacturing practices or the products themselves.
The Nike brand is a psychological concept that’s held in the mind of the consumer. Quite simply, it’s an idea. An idea with all sorts of affiliated images, feelings, products, words, sounds, smells, events, people, places, policies, opinions and even politics.
The conceptualization of Nike, in my mind, is much different than the idea of Nike in my daughter’s mind or in Phil Knight’s mind. Business owners and chief marketing officers have a skewed image of their own brand based on insider knowledge, best intentions and dreams for the future.
The consumer’s idea of your brand is based more on history and personal experience, where one bad experience skews the whole picture.
The trick is to bring those two worlds together. Great “branding” combines the aspirational mindset of the business owner with the realities of the customer experience and the demands of the modern marketplace.
Which leads me to another tricky term: “Branding.”
The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with design services. You’ll hear an entrepreneur say, “We’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. It’s often a good idea, but it’s not going to magically transform a struggling business into a beloved brand.
You have to do a lot more than good design work to build a great brand.
Branding is everything that’s done inside the company that influences that psychological concept that is The Brand; If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your Brand.
Not only that, there also are outside events that you cannot control that affect your Brand. New competitors, such as Under Armour, affect Nike’s brand. Personnel changes, political policies, grass roots movements, Wall Street and even foreign governments can help or hurt the Brand.
So you see, branding is not the exclusive domain of graphic designers. It’s not even the exclusive domain of the marketing department.
I love working with great designers. When I bring a concept to the table, and the designer executes it really, really well, it’s absolutely magical. But the graphic designer and the brand identity are just tiny components of the branding equation for the client. In the course of her career a designer might craft thousands of gorgeous brand identities, but the only Brand that she truly creates is her own.
I’m a big fan of the winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since. I’ve even watched some of the curling competition and ice dancing (yikes).
Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.
The summer games are fun too, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. Crews rowing in a straight line just isn’t as exciting to watch as downhill skiing. And a diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as edgy as a guy on skis doing a triple flip with five twists. But the Games are always inspiring, and for marketers, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics. It’s one of the greatest branding case studies of all time.
Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be marketed and a sub-brand to be designed. The Olympic rings are the enduring anchor.
In 2010 the Vancouver Games started on a sad note, with the death of a luge competitor. There have been other unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996. But every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.
Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002. As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.
But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced, the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.
In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.
The summer games in Rio boasted more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC Olympics.com) and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating their brand with the Olympic rings for four years.
No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.
Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.
Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.
As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands:
• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.
At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.
The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA. For instance, Lindsey Vonn was riveting after her win in Vancouver. And Ashton Eaton, after his follow-up win in the Decathalon.
And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handles things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident in Vancouver, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.
Corporate America could learn a thing or two.
• The Olympics are dramatically different.
Most notably, the Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup.
There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they paid $65 million, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.
At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.
The competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”
It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central element of the Olympic brand. It’s still relatively pure.
• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.
The characters change and individual events evolve, but at The Olympics the narrative remain consistent: Lifelong dreams of glory. National pride. Individual triumph of the underdog.
With the fragmentation of TV viewing, live sporting events are becoming more and more important to the networks. And there’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…
Ski as fast as you can — cross country— then stop, drop and shoot. Plunge head first down an icy, serpentine track on a “Skeleton” sled, at 70 miles per hour. This isn’t Little League or typical, suburban soccer mom stuff.
For people who never ski it’s hard to appreciate the technical nuances of traditional, alpine ski racing. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute figure skating program. It looks too easy. Even though most people can’t relate, they still watch.
The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.
And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings of the Vancouver Games in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. That year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. In the Sochi games they added even more events designed to appeal to the younger demographic, including a half pipe competition for skiers and snowboarders as well as women’s ski jumping. In 2018 they’re adding the big air competition, which competes directly with the XGames.
• The brand is way more than a mark.
Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”
That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But it goes much deeper than that.
You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit.
What you can learn from the Olympics is to define your own narrative and then stick with it.
When you watch the Olympics and get sucked into the story lines, you’ll see what I mean. In this age of Red Bull events and the XGames, maybe the Winter Games aren’t as relevant as they once were. But we’ll see. I’m betting that it will continue to inspire audiences. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by the latest Olympic athletes.